Michael is a packaging and bulk flour production manager at Ardent Mills and has volunteered on several projects with PFS over the years.
PFS: Tell us more about yourself.
MJ: I have been in the flour milling business my whole career, about 33 years!
PFS: Why did you initially join PFS?
MJ: I started my involvement with PFS after getting a challenge from senior leaders and my mentor, Randall Garvert. One of the values of Ardent Mills is serving, and by helping across our company, in the community, and with PFS, I get to live out Ardent Mills’ values.
PFS: What skills are you using when volunteering with PFS?
MJ: The skills that are used in these projects are numerous. I get to practice listening, challenge my perceptions and work with others to collaborate on developing solutions. I’ve learned that I do not need to know everything about a process to be an effective leader of the solution.
PFS: What challenges have you experienced as a volunteer?
MJ: Challenges have included understanding language accents from different areas of the world, working across different time zones, faulty internet connections from all participants and not being able to easily ship packages or visit sites. All of these were overcome by pure diligence by all team participants to succeed.
PFS: You’ve volunteered on three projects. What motivates you to continue volunteering?
MJ: There is a feeling of gratitude, accomplishment, and the challenge of growing my leadership and collaboration skills.
Janice Johnson is a technical services advisor at Cargill and the Zambia volunteer portfolio lead for PFS. As a portfolio lead, Janice is responsible for reviewing all Zambia project charters for accuracy and feasibility before they become approved projects.
PFS: Please tell us a little about your background.
JJ: I have been working in the food industry for over 20 years in both consumer product goods and ingredient supply segments. I have a passion for science and nutrition, which drives me to study ways to provide healthy food options for the general population.
PFS: Why did you decide to get involved with Partners in Food Solutions?
JJ: I am fortunate enough to be working for a company that is a firm believer in supporting communities through education, making a positive environmental impact, putting people first in terms of health, safety and personal development, and making food accessible, nutritious, and safe for the world. Upon learning about PFS, it was easy to see that we shared a lot of the same values about lifting communities so that everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential. After speaking with others about their positive experiences volunteering with PFS, it became an easy decision for me to become a volunteer.
PFS: What do you like most about being a portfolio lead for Zambia?
JJ: As the portfolio lead, I get visibility into all of the projects which allows me to learn more about others’ experiences and pick up tips on how to create meaningful solutions. I can also leverage these learnings with other clients to help expedite the decision process for other projects. I learn a lot from the challenges that the clients bring forward and I enjoy being able to share my technical knowledge and perspectives to help ensure they are successful.
PFS: What skills are you developing as a portfolio lead and how do you use those skills in your day job?
JJ: Considering some of the language barriers, time zone differences, and individual perspectives, I have learned to focus on my listening and verbal communication skills to make sure I am understanding others and they understand me. Having a clear grasp of the client’s needs is critical for making sure that I am a worthwhile contributor to their needs. Additionally, working with clients has sharpened my problem-solving skills, especially considering the limited resources available and the creativity required for robust solutions.
PFS: What is one thing you’ve learned after working as a portfolio lead?
JJ: Things that I take for granted are extremely important for PFS clients, such as, the impact of a drought or a flood on the ability to access electricity to run a business, protecting your business from crime, and the ability to get access to equipment and ingredients in a timely manner. Seeing these African businesses and entrepreneurs thrive so well with limited resources shows me that strong commitment, optimism, and persistence can lead to great success.
Yu “Chloe” Jiang, who was born and raised in China, has always been interested in food safety, even from an early age. “I remember as a young child learning about food safety scandals that occurred around the globe and being shocked by the people and companies that allowed them to happen,” Chloe said. “Honesty and honor are a couple of my core values and I am proud to work for a company that creates ingredients with integrity and lives out its values of serving people and trust.”
As a manager in the baking lab at Ardent Mills, Chloe is responsible for ensuring raw materials such as flour meets company and food safety standards. Chloe’s unique combination of technical food safety knowledge and ability to speak both Mandarin and English made her the perfect volunteer to help Barri Food Complex, a client that is supported by the partnership between TechnoServe, USAID, and PFS, translate equipment manuals for their grain processing plant in Ethiopia.
“Before Chloe, we were just troubleshooting the equipment. We didn’t have any [equipment] procedures in place,” said Anteneh Tesfaye, managing director of Barri Food Complex. “We could not find someone in our area who was able to translate our equipment manuals who also had a technical background,” Anteneh said, “having Chloe help translate our equipment manuals for us was very useful.” Now that the manuals have been translated to English, Barri Food Complex staff are able to use the equipment well and develop procedures that meet their local food safety standards.
Chloe explained that translating manuals for a grain processing plant in Ethiopia didn’t come without some unique challenges. “The type of maize flour in Ethiopia is very different from its counterpart in North America. I found that the term for cornmeal is not well defined in the US and the difference between corn flour and cornmeal can sometimes be confusing. When Barri Food Complex sent me a sample of their corn flour I noticed that it’s very fine and looks like the refined wheat flour you would find in the US. Through this experience, I learned not to assume anything. Especially when dealing with a food product from a different region and culture.”
For many volunteers, Partners in Food Solutions is an opportunity to learn new things – both professionally and personally. Chloe said, “Joining PFS was an opportunity that allowed me to use my technical knowledge to positively impact food safety and quality around the world. Not only did this experience enrich my knowledge about food, but it also taught me about food application and processing at the manufacturer.”
Whether you’re looking to network, develop new skills, or learn about a new culture, mentorships are a great way to connect with others and grow as an individual. The power of mentorships is that they often impact both sides – the mentor and the mentee – leading to a very fulfilling experience for everyone. Caio Malufe, a senior manager in corporate development at Cargill, recently joined the Partners in Food Solutions (PFS) mentoring program and was paired with Beatrice Githinji, the access to finance manager at Initiative for Smallholder Finance Advisors (ISF).
At ISF, Beatrice is responsible for assisting clients in the Alliance for Inclusive and Nutritious Food Processing (AINFP) program, supported by TechnoServe and USAID, acquire capital so they can fund projects related to improving nutrition. “My drive is to create a positive impact in the agriculture sector by improving access to finance for value-chain players,” Beatrice said. “The agricultural sector across the region is very heavily underfunded.” In her free time, Beatrice is a mentor herself. She mentors school children in her rural village to help improve their school performance and use education as a means to fight poverty. “I joined the PFS mentoring program because I want to redefine my career path, improve on other life skills, and learn about other cultures,” she said.
Caio, who joined the PFS volunteer network less than a year ago, has already participated in four projects and now his first mentorship. “I believe that the food and agriculture industry is one of the key catalyzers of impact in the world, and working toward a more equal and sustainable planet is the most powerful thing we can do,” Caio said. “I see Beatrice as someone who is supporting the financing of small and mid-sized entrepreneurs in vulnerable regions of Africa, and this is something dearly important to me. If she can leverage the conversations we have and the capabilities we discuss as a means of doing the job better, that’s what motivates me.”
Although Caio and Beatrice’s mentorship recently started, both of them have already reported learning something new. Caio said, “Our sessions so far have covered topics such as inner exploration, knowing oneself, communications strategy, and how to influence a team, which are all important themes for the work both of us are doing.” “Caio is a good mentor,” Beatrice said, “he has taken the time to understand why I am in this program and then guided the process, creating an amicable environment for the sessions. One of the critical things I have learned is the essence of being conscious and present in whatever I am doing. This has helped me a great deal in engaging with others.”
Beatrice and Caio plan to keep on meeting regularly throughout the year and continue conversations about communication strategies, purpose, professional development, and more. “I am inspired by Beatrice’s sense of purpose, and by the reasons behind her goals and ambitions in life... I do have the feeling that I am the one doing most of the learning at times.”
Sopa Supplies, a milling company based in Kenya, recently added a new processing facility to increase its production capacity and sales. Due to low market penetration and distribution, Sopa Supplies was not getting enough orders to utilize their new facility and reach full production capacity. That’s when they realized they needed assistance in developing a marketing strategy that aligned with their updated business plan. Mukul Aggarwal, a corporate strategist at Cargill, was looking for an opportunity to use his knowledge and business skills to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) when he discovered the PFS volunteer opportunity with Sopa Supplies. “I chose to volunteer on the marketing strategy project because SMEs are typically resource and cash-constrained in emerging nations and I wanted to help them achieve their business goals and make a meaningful impact,” Mukul said. “Moreover, Sopa Supplies is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, and I wanted to learn more about the country and continent given its growing prominence in the food industry.”
One of the most interesting things Mukul learned while working with Sopa Supplies was that the challenges the company faced were analogous to the challenges most other food and agricultural companies, like Cargill, experience. “Obstacles such as increasing market share, improving/maintaining food quality, and remaining price competitive transcend geographies or the size of an organization,” he said. On the other hand, there was a lot more emphasis on the short- term (0-2 years) strategy for Sopa Supplies. Typically, at Cargill, we take a long-term (5+ year) view and look at the changes that are expected to unfold in the future to determine the best positioning for sustainable growth. With that shorter-term timing in mind, some of the areas we focused on were creating a website, changing pricing strategy, and hiring the right sales talent.”
Pauline Njeri, managing director of Sopa Supplies, worked with Mukul and the PFS team to collaborate on and develop the marketing strategy. “PFS really guided us through the entire process, ensuring that we came up with a marketing strategy that will help us have a larger market presence and help us restore our declining sales and margins,” she said. “Mukul’s involvement in this project brought in the right expertise that helped us come up with a plan that is comparable to the best practices. His leadership in this project ensured that we were on track and therefore saving a lot of time.”
Pauline is looking forward to putting the market strategy PFS volunteers helped develop into place and seeing its positive impact on sale volumes, margins, and new markets.